One day, at a very young age, I was riding in the car with my dad on a steep mountain road that overlooked a deep valley. I don’t remember the purpose of our journey, but since we’re a hunting family, I am sure it had something to do with scouting a new hunting spot.
Several times as we traversed this narrow mountain road, I could look over the sharp edge and see the bottom of the valley far below. Nothing kept us from rolling to our impending doom except my dad’s driving skills. As I watched him cautiously navigate the curves, my dad explained that some roads have guardrails along the perilous stretches to clearly mark the safe boundaries and keep vehicles from unintentionally straying into dangerous areas.
It’s been a long time since that day when I learned the importance of literal guardrails, and along the pathways of life, I also learned about the importance of the guardrails of ministry. I responded to God’s call to ministry 17 years ago. Along that journey, great friends and co-laborers have often reminded me of the Lord’s loving kindness as God has kept me on course. His faithfulness is something I needed along the way, because ministry in Jesus’ church is not for the faint of heart! Looking back even now, I see assumptions I have made in error, moments that reveal my naiveté, and days of blindness due to my selfish motives. I’ve had great victories, in spite of myself. God has been faithful to keep me squarely on course.
Called into Ministry
My initial call into ministry goes back to Real Life Ministries in Post Falls, Idaho. The senior pastor there, Jim Putman, and I—along with the other guys on our team—watched the Lord grow our church to over 8,000 in attendance in a county of 100,000 people. At that size, we still had thousands of people in small groups and saw over 700 people baptized some years. As a result, churches would ask us what we were doing to make this happen. At times we struggled to answer their questions because we couldn’t quite put our finger on what was happening. But we were certain that God was doing something incredible in our midst and we knew his Spirit was laying a foundation for us and creating a platform from which we could help other churches.
This is an excerpt from Stay the Course, which you can purchase here.
God prompted us to pause during this crazy journey and intentionally evaluate some of the key practices that helped us stay on course. Jim would say, “Sometimes we might be on the rumble strips or in the ditch, but at least we are on the right road.” I can look back and see that there were temptations to veer off course or to take an off-ramp, but we remained on the right road.
That’s what I mean by stay the course with the help of guardrails: we were on the journey of making disciples, and by his grace, God kept us on the track to do that. Making disciples had been our primary aim since the beginning of the church, and yet we risked unintentionally straying from the disciple making path and sometimes we even faced the temptations of intentionally following a different path. We could have easily become sidetracked by the temptations associated with seeking numerical church growth, big Sunday morning “productions” that draw the crowds, or even notoriety that comes from cultivating a public image. However, pursuing these things can negatively affect our efforts of making disciples. We needed to identify what it would take to stay on course for the long haul.
The Seven Guardrails
As we evaluated the way we had navigated the sometimes bumpy—but always exhilarating—road of ministry, we discovered some practices that are vital to staying on the healthy road of disciple making. We identified seven essential practices, and these “seven essentials” were the guardrails that helped us to avoid making a wrong turn or to go a different direction. They kept us on the right road and helped us stay the course. I share with you these seven essential practices by way of introduction. I pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and direct you into a deeper understanding of them as you travel along your journey:
- Abiding in Christ. Every step toward making true disciples must be rooted in our personal walk with the Lord.
- Reaching the Lost. Many in the Church believe that reaching the lost is the end goal, but with discipleship as our focus, helping the world meet Jesus is the beginning of the journey, not the end.
- Connecting the Unconnected. Believers must first be connected to God in a deeper way and then connected to other believers in authentic relationships.
- Chase the Strays. It is our responsibility as ministers to go after those who have pulled away from the body of Christ and to draw them close to help them grow and connect.
- Shepherd toward Spiritual Maturity. We must guide believers into a place of maturity in Christ, not leaving them to remain stagnant or struggling.
- Release Leaders. Helping believers discover and develop their potential in Christ and releasing them to use their gifting for the Kingdom of God is vital for healthy disciple making.
- Function as a Team. The greatest tool we have as a church is unity.